Google just got done announcing its Pixel 3 and 3 XL smartphones, and although we’ve seen them leaked repeatedly over the last couple months, we’re finally getting an up-close look and the chance to try them firsthand. Just how much does that notch on the XL stand out? Have the screens improved? How does the matte glass on the back feel compared to the aluminum on the older Pixels?
These phones feel significantly more premium than last year’s Pixel 2. Moving to a glass front and back gives them a much higher-quality look and feel overall. The glass on the rear is a single pane, with the matte finish sort of sanded in the bottom half. It does mean, however, that these phones are slightly heavier than the previous generation.
We’ll need to spend more time with the screens to really give a final judgment, but my initial impression is that the Pixel 3 XL screen is significantly improved over last year’s screen. Everything is clearer without being fully blown out to Samsung-level garishness. The smaller Pixel 3 also has a great screen, now slightly bigger than last year’s. (It’s a diamond PenTile subpixel arrangement, if you’re curious.)
Sincerely, the screen is so much better.
Oh, and the notch on the Pixel 3 XL is not as egregious in person as it is in photos. Is it big? Yes, but it’s also totally not a problem for me. Well, except for one thing: the way that the notch “area” cuts off into the rest of the screen can be super inelegant, and it can make stuff just look a little chopped off.
I can’t help you decide whether or not the 3 XL is too big for you, but I can tell you that the slightly larger screen on the smaller Pixel 3 has me seriously considering going to the smaller phone.
Camera quality also seems pretty great. I took a super quick portrait shot, backlit, with some pretty shaky hands (see it below). We will, of course, need to do way more testing to render a judgment, but at the very least, it’s safe to say that Google hasn’t backslid at all since last year’s best-available camera.
Google spent more time talking up a bunch of AI features that are built into the camera, including Lens, a night-shooting mode, and so on. We haven’t been able to test them all, but I did give the Top Shot feature a try. If it thinks you’ve taken a bad photo, a button to pick a better shot will appear when you look at the photo, but you can always find a “Select shots” button hidden in a menu. It works, but as with the wide-angle selfie camera, I don’t know that it’s so much better than what we’ve seen before that you should buy the phone for this feature.
We tried Google’s fancy digital zoom thing, and it is definitely a digital zoom thing. I didn’t really notice it being especially great, but, again, we’ll need to do a ton more testing and comparing before I can really say. Also, you can put Iron Man in your selfies.
But there is one standout feature that is as good as advertised: call screening. When you get a call, you can tap the screen button, and the person on the other end hears a fairly natural, Duplex-style AI voice talking to them. It shows what they say back in real time on your screen, and despite some hiccups from this loud room, it totally worked. You can tap little text responses right on the call screen, and it will speak those responses to your caller.
You shouldn’t answer spam calls at all (it encourages them), but if you think something might be real, it’s a great option to have.
Both Pixels pack a larger display inside the same overall form factor as last year. The $899 64GB / $999 128GB Pixel 3 XL moves up to a 6.3-inch QHD+ screen (made possible by its deep notch), and the regular $799 64GB / $899 128GB Pixel 3 has a 5.5-inch FHD+ screen. It looks like a smaller Pixel 2 XL, just as the leaks indicated. If the display cutout bothers you, this is definitely the one to get since it has the exact same cameras, processor, RAM, and other core specs aside from screen resolution and battery capacity.
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